Common Noun Clauses in English

Noun Clauses in English: When a Clause Is Used as a Noun in English


Noun clauses are clauses that function as nouns. A clause is a group of words containing a subject and a verb. A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea. In this posting I talk about how to form and correctly use noun clauses. I include many example sentences. The download at the end will give you additional practice using noun clauses.

What is a noun clause?

A noun clause is a clause that functions as a noun. Noun clauses are dependent clauses. They cannot stand alone and need to be part of an independent clause to form a complete sentence. Noun clauses can be used in the same way as nouns. This means they can be subjects, objects, or complements in a sentence.

Noun clauses as subjects

Noun clauses are often used as subjects of sentences. Look at this sentence:

Something he said was very mean and hurtful. 

The subject of the sentence is the pronoun something. Now let us look at the sentence with a noun clause replacing something.

What he said was very mean and hurtful. 

What he said is a noun clause. He is the subject of the clause and said is the verb. What he said is the subject of the sentence.

Noun clauses as objects

Noun clauses can be direct objects and objects of prepositions. Look at this sentence:

Marta said something. 

Something is the direct object of the sentence. Now look at the sentence with a noun clause replacing something.

Marta said that she was tired

That she was tired is the direct object of the sentence. Note that we can reduce this clause by omitting that.

Marta said she was tired

Now look at this sentence:

I don’t care about something. 

Something is the object of the preposition about. Here is the sentence with a noun clause in place of something.

I don’t care about what he thinks. 

What he thinks is the object of a preposition. If we reduce the clause by omitting about, we have:

I don’t care what he thinks

Noun clauses as complements

We use complements with be verb. Look at this sentence:

The problem is something. 

In this case, something is the complement of the sentence. Now let us look at the sentence using a noun clause:

The problem is that my boss can’t make a decision

That my boss can’t make a decision is a complement, as it means the same thing as problem.

Phrases that signal noun clauses

Below are some common phrases that signal that a noun clause may be coming.

  1. I don’t know if he got my email. 
  2. I can’t remember who finally solved this problem. 
  3. Please tell me when the party starts. 
  4. Do you know who is teaching this class? 
  5. I wonder if she will be at work today. 
  6. I think that it’s my turn to drive tonight. 

In all of these sentences, the noun clause is the direct object of the sentence.

Common noun clause markers

The words below are called noun clause markers. These words introduce noun clauses. You will notice that some of these words are question words. Note that even when a question word introduces a noun clause, we do not invert the subject and the verb of the noun clause. We use the normal subject + verb order. This is because these clauses are not really questions. They are statements.

  1. how–I’ll never understand how he did that! (direct object) 
  2. thatThat he found a good job is amazing. He never even finished high school! (subject) 
  3. what–She doesn’t think about what anyone else needs. (object of a preposition) 
  4. whatever–You can order whatever you want from the menu. (direct object) 
  5. whenThe decision  to make is when we are going on vacation. (complement) 
  6. where–Please tell me where he is going
  7. whether (or not)–He didn’t tell me whether (or not) he would be late today. (direct object) 
  8. which–I don’t know which location Bob prefers. (direct object) 
  9. whichever–I’ll support whichever decision you make. (direct object) 
  10. who–Do you know who our new boss is? (direct object) 
  11. whoeverWhoever broke into my house has not yet been caught. (subject) 
  12. why–I don’t know why he quit his job. (direct object) 
  13. if–Tell me if I can borrow your car tomorrow

You now know that noun clauses can be used a subjects, direct objects, objects of prepositions, and complements in sentences. Noun clauses often follow certain phrases. We also introduce them with certain words or markers. The word order in a noun clause is always the normal order of subject + verb, even if the noun clause begins with a question word. The download will give you more opportunities to practice understanding and using noun clauses.

You can download the practice sheet now!

  1. Idioms of the day
    1. in the long run–This means in the end. Before you paint the kitchen, take time to prepare the walls. It may not be fun, but in the long run the paint will go on faster and will last longer. 
  2. to keep tabs of–This means to watch someone or something very carefully. I don’t have much money, and I’m on a tight budget. So I need to keep tabs on all my expenses. 


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